Folks at the Department of Housing and Urban Development thought it would be a fine idea to give Haitian Americans information about subsidized housing in French Creole so they could better understand their rights and responsibilities.
Problem was, the 5,000 pamphlets printed weren't in Creole. They were in what looks to be a type of English-based Jamaican Creole, a spoken dialect, entitled: "Rezedents rights and Rispansabilities" and signed by "Sekretary Andrew M. Cuomo fella."
The first sentence explains that "yuh as a rezedent, ave di rights ahn rispansabilities to elp mek yuh HUD-asisted owzing ah behta owme fi ahn yuh fambily." So "Dis is a brochure distributed to yuh cawze Hud ah provide some fawm ahf asistance aur subsidy fi di whole apawtment buildin."
No doubt the French-Creole speaking Haitians found this quite puzzling, especially those not familiar with the federal government. (Jamaicans, by the way, read and write standard English.)
So how did this bizarre little pamphlet, first written about last month by columnist Cecil Adams in the Chicago Reader, get printed? 'Tis a sorry tale indeed.
A senior HUD official blames, among other people, the Government Printing Office. Most "federal agencies don't print their own stuff," said HUD spokeswoman Ginny Terzano, "they have to go to GPO," which also provides translation services. "We contracted with them and they sent back versions in nine languages and a Braille version," she said. "Then we got a complaint [in early September from a nonprofit housing group] that this doesn't look like Creole, it looks like gibberish."
"We asked GPO and they said, 'Yes, it is Creole, it was certified as such,' " Terzano said. "We told them it can't be."
Wonder what tipped them off. Could it have been this part? "HUD prowtekss di rights ahf di tenants, ahn tenants gauwd dem own right tru rispansible be'aviah. Owah goal is fi guh beyan dat pawtnaship ahn create a sense ahf community." The GPO looked into it and wrote HUD on Nov. 1.
"The contract was awarded to Thorner Press in Buffalo, N.Y.," said GPO head Michael DiMario, who has the title of "public printer." Thorner wrote that the GPO "subcontracted for translation services with Cosmos Translation and Interpretation Services Inc. in Toronto, Canada," DiMario said. Cosmos says its translation is "duly certified" and that its "translators are . . . certified members" of a recognized translation organization.
HUD stopped distributing the pamphlets, which cost 18 cents each, after 1,000 or so had been distributed. All told, HUD is out about $1,000 for the pamphlets.
So was this HUD's fault? Of course not, said HUD's Terzano. "Translation capabilities are not something we put forward as part of our expertise," she said. "GPO has to take responsibility. They said they would provide translation services. You expect that if you pay good money you will get a real product."
So was this the GPO's fault? Of course not, said GPO spokesman Andrew M. Sherman.
"We are printers, we are not linguists. We sent the text to HUD with a request for an okay to print," Sherman said. "On June 30, HUD employee Sylvia A. Miller signed off, saying: 'To the best of my knowledge, ready for print. This is a Haiti type of Creole.' We showed it to the customer and said, 'Is this what you want?' And they said 'yes.' That is the best quality control. We depend on the customer."
Absurd, said Terzano, citing contract language stating the GPO "will be responsible for ensuring that the language translations are properly accomplished."
The problem may have arisen because HUD didn't specify "French Creole," DiMario said in his letter, only creole, which is a general term for a combination of languages.
It may be that the Toronto translators didn't get it right, a Knight Ridder wire service article suggests.
Wonder if anyone checked the Braille version.
Blinded by the Moola
Speaking of HUD, an item Monday said outgoing spokeswoman Terzano was going to head the Washington office of Microsoft. We got so excited about how much money she was going to make we promoted her too high. Terzano is only heading the PR operation. The highly regarded--and grossly underpaid--Jack Krumholtz continues to head the Washington operation.
Dance of the Two Veils
Money laundering, recycling cash to hide its illicit origins, is going to get tougher to do under legislation recently introduced in Congress. Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) offered the Money Laundering Abatement Act of 1999 last week, saying: "I am today introducing legislation that would significantly increase the transparency of our banking system . . . and pierce the veil of secrecy that for too long has made it possible for institutions and individuals operating in largely unregulated offshore jurisdictions. . . ."
Speak of recycling . . . Rep. James A. Leach (R-Iowa), proposing a similar bill back on Sept. 21, issued a press release that said: "I am today introducing legislation that would significantly increase the transparency of the international banking system to pierce the veil of secrecy that for too long has made it. . . ."
Why reinvent the wheel?